Apple iPad marks “major change” for catalogue industry

Catalogue Central chief executive Robert Wong told ProPrint consumer habits are set to “change quite dramatically” with the rise of e-readers, tablet computers and smartphones.

The Melbourne-based catalogue website digitises print catalogues for big-name brands such as Kmart, Telstra and Best & Less.

Wong said: “What we’re starting to see are more devices with more capacity in the hands of people, and that’s going to start changing consumer behaviour.”

“There is no question that print is an enormously powerful medium, but when you get all the benefits of printed content electronically delivered, and with more content, then I think things are going to change quite dramatically.”

Wong declared that the rise of technologies such as the iPad are “not something to be feared”, but are part of an irreversible trend.

“We’re not saying that print is going to fall in a screaming heap overnight,” he said. “That just won’t happen.”

“But we’re seeing the beginning of a major change to the role that paper has played in our communications.”

Richard Allely, chief executive of catalogue printing and distribution giant PMP, acknowledged that the iPad does have the capacity to replace traditional catalogue delivery, but doesn’t see this happening “in the short term”.

“Technology to date has had very little impact in replacing digital media,” he said to ProPrint.

“I think, in time, as generations get older and new generations come through, the technology will have a role to play. It will be generational change, it won’t happen overnight. It’s a long way off, not my in my lifetime.”

Allely contended that the iPad would have to be given away for free before it represented a major threat to catalogue printers.

“A catalogue in the letterbox is a very cheap medium for the revenue it can generate,” he said. “For the iPad to have a presence, there needs to be one in every household.”

“There’s a socio-economic issue. Every household has a letterbox but not everyone will have an iPad. There’s still a large percentage of houses out there that don’t have a PC.”

Australian Catalogue Association chief executive Ken Bishop described the emergence of the iPad and devices like it as “good news”.

“We think it’s exciting,” Bishop told ProPrint. “All new forms of media that increase media spending are marvelous.

“That’s good for the nation’s economy, so if the iPad contributes to that, it’s good for all of us because it raises our GDP.”

Wong agreed that technologies such as the iPad would add overall value to the media industry, but said they are “directly competing with print”.

“Print used to be the medium that you went to for more information, say if you’d heard something on the radio or on television,” he said.

“But now people are going to the web for that kind of information, and ads even tell you to go to the web. There aren’t any ads now that say ‘you can read more about this in a newspaper’.”

Bishop said the industry will just “continue to focus on what we do” to meet the threat of the iPad.

He pointed to a survey last September that showed the great majority of Australians continue to find value in reading printed catalogues.

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